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Just like fat, cholesterol has a bad reputation, even though it isn’t always bad for you. We need a certain amount of cholesterol, just like we need some fats. Our bodies make some cholesterol naturally, and we get other cholesterol from food.

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There are two main types of cholesterol. LDL, which is often called the 'bad' kind, can lodge in the walls of your blood vessels and arteries and form plaques that can lead to heart disease. HDL, known as the 'good' cholesterol, can help prevent heart damage.

There are also triglycerides, a form of fat made in the body. If your triglycerides are high, the risk for heart disease is higher, too.

What should your numbers be?

LDL:

130 or lower is normal for most people

130 to 159 is borderline high

160 to 189 is in the high category

190 and higher is regarded as very high

Less than 100 is optimal for people with heart disease. If you are at a very high risk for heart attacks, or have diabetes, the optimal goal may be less than 70. Check with your doctor about your LDL number.

HDL: Over 60 is best. Levels below 40 in men and 50 in women are considered low, and may indicate an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Triglycerides: Below 150 is best, 150-199 is borderline, 200 and above is high.

Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 is best, 200 to 239 is borderline, 240 and above is high.

What causes high cholesterol?

  • Heredity: If your parents and grandparents all have or had high cholesterol, it’s more likely that you will, too.
  • Age: Cholesterol rises as we get older, as do triglyceride levels.
  • Diet: A diet high in saturated fats and transfats (think greasy foods, like donuts and cheeseburgers) increases cholesterol levels.
  • Weight: Being overweight can lead to higher cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Inactivity: Getting regular physical activity can help lower your LDL levels and boost your “good” HDL cholesterol.
  • Gender: Female hormones increase HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

If you find out that you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor to develop a plan to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Some things the doctor may suggest:

  • Get moving! Just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can help bring your weight down and lead to improved cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce fats. Cut down on saturated fats and transfats in your diet and replace these with healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Medication. Your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication if lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough.
  • Supplements. Your doctor may recommend certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids to lower triglycerides or niacin to raise HDL levels.